And so we begin….to be a real community.
Patriarchy is the primary source of poverty. Since those struggling with poverty are primarily women and children, it behooves us to ask what we as women can do to end the patriarchal system that causes so much poverty.
There are many ways to answer this question – as many ways as there are women and men. However, I can answer out of my own life experience, steps I have taken in my own life.
However, I must note here, that as much as I have been culturally and economically discriminated against due to patriarchy, I have also benefited from over privilege due to patriarchy and its accompanying racism. This over privilege allowed me to have good nutrition and healthcare growing up, receive a Catholic education and gain hiring opportunities that would likely not have been offered to women of color in the U.S. during this time.
My children likely remember that they had a mom who worked full time while they were young. I continued to develop my own career in order to give myself financial independence – the surest way to resist poverty for women and kids.
Maintaining my own career also meant that I was often the primary breadwinner – though not generally perceived as such by those who assume wives don’t earn more than their husbands.
Later on, as my kids started junior high, I started my own consulting business. This allowed me to be home at 3pm most days available to drive them to activities or to be present at home with their friends. It also allowed me to be home during the summer months, taking them to the pool or on bike rides down the prairie path. Unfortunately, because of this flexible schedule, the perception from my kids’ point of view was that I didn’t work or was often unemployed – though this was in fact, far from the truth.
Once both kids were adults (one finishing college, the other moving to college) I continued my education by enrolling in graduate school full time. Here, working with international students, I learned more about patriarchal systems that oppress people in ways most of us aren’t aware of.
This training lead me to be a pastoral minister and then to teaching theology through the lens of social justice for nearly 10 years at a Catholic university. It also lead to my returning to academia for my doctorate.
Now I could delve into learning what could help people see and understand the many layers of oppression that create poverty. Further, I learned techniques to educate others on the many tools that can help overcome it. Improving self-esteem, empowerment, political action and developing new economic partnerships (Fair Trade, local, bartering, etc.) help make us less reliant on corporate economic systems, such as the financial industry or health insurance, that contribute to the creation of poverty.
This is my work. This is the orientation of my life – ever changing and ever growing. But I don’t do this work alone. There are many, many others (educators, health care professionals, immigration lawyers, ministers, programmers and many others) who similarly focus their work on something that – not only gives them joy – but tries to make the world a better place.
I do not expect to achieve the goal of justice in my lifetime. Rather, it is more important that I’m focused this way and that I continue to try. In this way I hope to become the kind of person who has those qualities I admire in others – compassion, generosity, kindness and the ability to be in mutual (therefore healthy) relationships with others, both giving and receiving.
For me, this process has created health and happiness, inside and out. A joyful life filled with challenges, but also peace and gratitude.
Sometimes experiences that are most hurtful can actually be a gift. Such is the case for those who have experienced scapegoating or rejection from those they love. A friend of mine was feeling the pain of having been shut out by most of his genetic family after coming out as a gay man. His father wouldn’t speak to him, his siblings and others refused to return his calls or emails. He was no longer invited to family events. As is often the case, family members were twisting the story to say that he had separated from them, that he had rejected them – to justify their scapegoating behavior.
All of this was truly painful for him – however it was also a gift. This young man had the benefit of knowing immediately who was actually his family. He knew without doubt who in his life would love and accept him unconditionally, as he was, for who he was. He knew immediately who would support him in living an authentic life – and who would not.
Sometimes this knowledge is invisible to us. Until a life-changing event (perhaps a divorce, death, serious illness, or revelation like my friend’s above) we may not realize that some relationships we hold dear are actually not loving at all, not supportive, not accepting.
Similarly, if you witness family members shutting someone out, gossiping or treating others badly, know that given the chance they will very likely do the same to you. Stand up for someone being treated badly – don’t collude with your silence. Don’t participate in the tribal mindset.
If you are unwilling to stand up for someone being mistreated for fear of rejection yourself, then know this: your fear is an indication that you are not being unconditionally accepted – you have already been rejected.
Unlike this young man’s so called “family,” when we really love someone, we want them to live their best life. We want them to leave toxic, abusive relationships or even relationships that make them unhappy or depressed. We aren’t interested in manipulating them or those around them. We don’t begrudge them their success, happiness or joy. Rather, we are interested in deeply listening to the story of their life journey, to their struggles and hopes. Likewise we are willing to share our journey with them too.
True acceptance, deep listening and sharing are the hallmarks of those who are actually our family, regardless of arbitrary genetic linkage. If you have felt the heart-wrenching pain of being abandoned, manipulated, scapegoated or rejected by those you love – see it for the gift that it is. Focus on deepening and encouraging relationships that are supportive and caring. Be with those who love being with you and who you love to be with!
What do you do with your suffering? Use your knowledge and experience of rejection to strengthen your emotional resilience, non-judgment and compassion for others – especially those who are excluded and marginalized. This is the mark of emotional and spiritual health. This is the mark of becoming truly human.
Mothers’ Day greetings, wishes and blessings to all those who are mothers or have mothered others in their lives. Those who have cared for our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being are many and today we acknowledge them.
Interestingly, counter to our cultural understanding, today is also an acknowledgment that no one is “self-made.” Rather our relationships with many others have helped to form who we are. Those who have been generous, kind and caring towards us have helped to bring out the best of who we are.
Today we give thanks for kind, caring and generous nurturers everywhere.
Not too long ago my friend L contacted our parish to let them know that she was interested in forming a new small Christian community. But life being what it is, there were other priorities at the parish and as time went by it became clear that things might not happen within the time frame she had in mind. Rather than become irritated, annoyed, or continue to repeat her request (i.e. nag), she contacted some people she thought might be interested then hosted our first meeting. A wonderful group came together. Through her own initiative, she created a supportive group of people with similar values – a group that she wanted to be part of.
This is the challenge of Christianity. This is what we see in the model of Jesus. Jesus never demanded that the religious authorities of his day change to his way of thinking. Neither did he nag them to do things differently. Rather, he created a community of women and men who shared his values and lived out of those values.
When Jesus was confronted by those in authority he stated his values or offered a parable to shock others into a new way of thinking. Everyone was invited to join in – but not pressured or coerced into doing so. Even when his family confronted him – demanding he come with them and accept their way of viewing the world (a patriarchal, tribal worldview), Jesus responded by radically changing their definition of family – “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? These people here with me now are my family!” (Mark 3). Then he went about his life, not expecting or demanding that his genetic family see things his way or change.
Neither did Jesus spend much time with family or religious authorities who didn’t share his values. After all, the best way to resist patriarchy and tribalism is simply not to participate in it. In moving toward a better, healthier way of living, one naturally moves away from ways that are harmful or toxic.
The same path is open to each of us too. We can continue to bemoan the fact that families, corporations, hierarchies or institutions fail to share our values. We can expend much energy pressuring or demanding them to change – or we can simply start living in a different way. We can change. Like my friend L, we can live into a new reality and invite others to join us.
Resurrection: Walk out of the tomb. Walk into a new reality.
“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”